A lawsuit filed in Philadelphia this week against the Boys Scouts of America on behalf of a Pennsylvania man has created a heart-sinking déjà vu. Lawyers claim to have uncovered hundreds of unreported cases of sexual abuse in the organization. It hearkens back to almost exactly a year ago when Attorney General Josh Shapiro released a grand jury report that detailed decades of sexual abuse by 300 priests across the Commonwealth.
The déjà vu has much to do with the similarities between the scouting scandal and the legacy of abuse in the Catholic Church -- and how hierarchal organizations supposed to be wholesome and beneficial instead preyed on the innocent and vulnerable, compounding the damage by remaining secretive and insulated.
The Boy Scout abuse scandal emerged nearly a decade ago when a secret file of “ineligible volunteers” suspected of abusing their charges – called the “perversion files” -- came to light.
In the church, the cover-up was even worse: secrecy compounded by the fact that instead of making abusive priests ineligible to serve, the church would simply transfer them to new communities where the abuse could continue.
Both the Church and the Scouts represent institutions with declining membership that are more dedicated to their own survival than to serving members.
A few years ago, the Boy Scouts of America attempted to stem its declining numbers by dropping “boys” from its name and recruiting girls. In light of the current lawsuit and scandal, that move is disturbing. As we have reluctantly learned in the decades of church scandal, pedophiles don’t necessarily favor boys. They favor children.
The other thing they share in common: Pennsylvania’s laws on statute of limitations for reporting abuse by victims falls horribly short. The current law allows victims to file civil suits up to age 30 and criminal cases up to age 50. That’s an injustice. Calls for eliminating the statute of limitations followed the release of the grand jury report. The state legislature did nothing about it then. Now, even more people will suffer because of it. Other states have moved to eliminate the statute of limitations on such cases. So should Pennsylvania.
By its inaction, lawmakers have ensured an entirely new crop of people hurt as children could be denied justice.
There is one way the Church and the Boy Scouts differ: the church is unlikely to go away (nor should it). The Boy Scouts as an organization can be dissolved -- and in fact began exploring bankruptcy last year. This prompted Abused in Scouting, a group of lawyers working together on such cases, to accelerate its outreach to victims, resulting in the suit filed this week.
These legal issues are important. But not as important as the conversation that is more difficult to have: Why so many men abuse children, and is it possible to design institutions without the dark corners that attract and shield their actions?